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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2678

UN needs focus on plight of Black minority in U.S: Here’s Why

By Daya Gamage – Asian Tribune Investigative Report
Washington, D.C. 07 October (

It has been reported to the Asian Tribune desk in the United States that the United Nations Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izaak-Ndiaye, will conduct an extensive investigation to assess the current situation on ethnic and linguistic minorities in Sri Lanka during her official visit from 10 to 20 October.

Since the defeat of the secessionist Tamil Tigers in 2009, the United States has been in the fore front twisting the arm of Sri Lanka urging it to get to the bottom of the issue America has identified as the most devastating one for Sri Lanka: Tamil grievances, the ethnic minorities place in Sri Lankan society, the minority call for devolution of administrative and economic power to the Tamil-majority districts in the North and East, among others.

The UN official’s main focus undoubtedly is ethnic Tamil issues, others secondary. The United States has been advocating a federal structure for Sri Lanka, having Tamil issues in mind, from the time of Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead deployed his Colombo USAID office – with Washington funds – in 2002 in many parts of the country sponsoring workshops to impress upon Sri Lanka’s rural and semi-urban population the benefits of federalism. The issue is very seriously stressed by the current ambassador Atul Keshap.

At a Sri Lankan expatriate gathering in Los Angeles on 25 September hosted by the Consul General, foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera, in fact, echoed the American sentiment in promoting a federal structure for Sri Lanka.

The UN, which is almost under the (funding) control of the United States – and for decades its trajectory has been spearheaded by the second-most important Office of Under-Secretary for Political Affairs perennially occupied by former state department officials – has, since the Tiger secessionist war was concluded, given foremost importance to the ethnic Tamil issues in Sri Lanka. Former Sri Lankan diplomat Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke is aware the tight grip and influence that ‘Office’ had on the operation of the UNHRC in Geneva. The UN official’s visit this October is undoubtedly for that purpose.

The U.S. Department of State has been the vociferous critic of the manner in which Sri Lanka handles ethnic issues, meaning the Tamil issue, for a decade or so. Washington sounds like solving the Tamil ethnic issue is the panacea for all ill in Sri Lanka.

This investigative piece intends focusing on the status of minorities – especially the 12% Black minority – in the American society, what their status in the a largely-White-controlled American society, whether the Black minority is given a fair share of American prosperity, and what steps the United States has taken to bring an egalitarian society it advocates to Sri Lanka.

Let’s start:

In many ways, America remains two societies – one black and one white – as measured by key demographic indicators of social and economic well-being. According to the most recent nation-wide survey by the foremost research institute – Pew Research - about four-in-ten blacks are doubtful that the U.S. will ever achieve racial equality.

The evocative description of an emerging divided America comes from the 1968 Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kener Commission, which warned that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”

Pew Research Center survey finds profound differences between black and white adults in their views on racial discrimination, barriers to black progress and the prospects for change. Blacks, far more than whites, are treated unfairly across different realms of life, from dealing with the police to applying for a loan or mortgage. And, for many blacks, racial equality remains an elusive goal.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014 the median adjusted income for households headed by blacks was $43,300, and for whites it was $71,300. Blacks also lag behind whites in college completion, but even among adults with a bachelor’s degree, blacks earned significantly less in 2014 than whites. In 2013, the most recent year available, the median net worth of households headed by whites was roughly 13 times that of black households.

For most Americans, household wealth is closely tied to home equity, and there are sharp and persistent gaps in homeownership between blacks and whites. In 2015, 72% of white household heads owned a home, compared with 43% of black household heads.

And on the flipside of wealth – poverty – racial gaps persist. Blacks are still more than twice as likely as whites to be living in poverty in 2014.

Broad nationwide surveys have revealed that the persistent inequality between the two ethnic groups is due to disparity in the distribution of facilities in education and economic opportunities. It is a foregone fact that in Black neighborhoods, educational facilities provided by the federal and state governments are far below to that of White neighborhoods. Upward mobility for the White is within their reach than the Blacks.

Analyses of federal government data by the Pew Research Center find that blacks on average are at least twice as likely as whites to be poor or to be unemployed. Households headed by a black person earn on average little more than half of what the average white households earns. And in terms of their median net worth, white households are about 13 times as wealthy as black households – a gap that has grown wider since the Great Recession.


While education is widely viewed as the key to upward mobility for all races, the Pew Research Center analysis finds that the benefits of schooling often flow in unequal measure to blacks relative to whites. For example, among those with a bachelor’s degree, blacks earn significantly less than whites ($82,300 for black householders vs. $106,600 for whites). In fact, the income of blacks at all levels of educational attainment lags behind that of their white counterparts.

Whites are far more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree than blacks. More than a third (36%) of whites ages 25 and older do, compared with 23% of blacks, according to analyses of the Current Population Survey.

The story is very different for Asians in the U.S. They have consistently been more likely than other racial and ethnic groups to have a bachelor’s degree. Today, just over half (53%) do, compared with about 36% of whites. And when it comes to high school completion, Asian rates have more or less been on par with whites since 1988, when data on Asians first became available.

Income Gap

Blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to live in poverty. In 2014, about a quarter (26%) of blacks was poor, compared with 10% of whites.

Households headed by whites have considerably higher median net worth – a measure of the value of what a household owns minus what it owes – than those headed by blacks. In 2013, the net worth of white households was $144,200, roughly 13 times that of black households, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

The wealth gap between black and white households has widened since 1983, when the median wealth of white households ($98,700) was eight times that of the wealth of black households ($12,200).


The unemployment rate for whites was 4.5% in 2015 and among blacks that share was 10.3%. As unemployment rose in the early 1980s due to an economic downturn, the jobless rate for all blacks rose to 21.1% in 1983 – its highest point in more than 50 years – while the white rate peaked at 9.3%.

Black men have particularly high unemployment rates. Some 11.6% are unemployed. By comparison, the rate among white men stands at 5.1%. And 9.3% of black women are unemployed, while just 3.8% of white women are. The unequal distribution of resources is attributed to the plight of the Blacks.

Unfair Treatment to Blacks

Across many realms of American life – including in dealing with the police, in the courts, when voting, in the workplace, when applying for a loan or mortgage, and in stores or restaurants – black adults are consistently more likely than whites to say blacks are treated less fairly, both in the communities where they live and in the country as a whole.

About eight-in-ten (84%) black Americans say blacks in the United States are treated less fairly than whites in dealing with the police, and majorities also say blacks are treated less fairly in the courts (75%), when applying for a loan or mortgage (66%), and in the workplace (64%).

What Sri Lanka should Ponder

Since 1960, the US Congress has enacted very progressive laws to bridge the gap between the two ethnic communities. Laws against discrimination, providing equal opportunities in education, employment and equitable distribution of economic resources have hardly produced to bridge the gap between the Whites and Blacks in America. Taking the lesson from what one sees in the United States, a country that preaches and advocate reconciliation and racial equality, Sri Lanka should – afresh – look into the status of all ethnic communities on the society at large.

Statistics have revealed that 54% Tamils (in Sri Lanka) are domiciled outside their ‘traditional homeland’ North and East; Sri Lanka is 77% rural, 19% urban and 4% plantation; the 19% urban sector received excessive privileges since the independence in 1948; in that sector, one could see a potpourri of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims enjoying all privileges; Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are domiciled in the rural (77%) sector with least resources provided by the provincial or central governments.

The UN official needs to go through this larger picture to find answers to the underprivileged Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. No one has even given any focus to the plight of the 5% plantation Sector Tamils of Recent Indian Origin.

The Northern and Eastern regions of the country is where a bulk of Tamils, now estimated to be 46 percent of Tamil population, live—in the most neglected rural sector. So is the south – Monaragala especially – live with scant resources.

Can the policymakers in Sri Lanka ignore that, in the 77 percent rural sector (and the 75 percent of the population living in that sector), there is a potpourri of Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims and that this sector is the most disadvantaged and underdeveloped, in which the peasants do not receive reasonable prices for their agricultural and other produce, and inadequate educational facilities and infrastructural development have halted their upward social mobility. Then the country has the 19 percent urban sector (where, according to the GSL census and statistics data, 18.1 percent of the total population live)—again a potpourri of Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims—which has received preferential treatment at the expense of the rural sector since the country’s independence.

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / the World Bank released a report in October 2015 that presented broad and comprehensive data on the status of poverty that has engulfed all ethnic communities in various regions in Sri Lanka. This World Bank study, in fact, negates the arguments of the professional operatives within the Tamil diaspora that the ethnic Tamils are the most underprivileged ethnic community in Sri Lanka and that the majority Sinhalese enjoy privileged position in the Sri Lankan society. It is this sentiment that has guided the UN and the West to focus solely on the Tamil issue.

Equitable distribution of resources to the rural sector of Sri Lanka is what will bring conciliation among ethnic communities in Sri Lanka and correct the ‘historic injustice’ to all communities (living the rural sector) to bring an egalitarian society.

When Sri Lanka gets lectures from the United States – and very soon from the visiting UN official – to get their society in good footing, Sri Lankans should engage in extensive knowledge hunt to educate themselves of – with all the progressive state and federal laws – what’s not right in the American society in which 11% minority Black population still not reached the goal of achieving upward economic mobility.

It is in this context that Sri Lankans should view the official undertaking of United Nations Rapporteur on minority issues Rita Izaak-Ndiaye’s forthcoming visit.

- Asian Tribune -

UN needs focus on plight of Black minority in U.S: Here’s Why
UN needs focus on plight of Black minority in U.S: Here’s Why
UN needs focus on plight of Black minority in U.S: Here’s Why
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